PDF is a familiar file format for most people. Adobe first introduced it in 1993, and later standardized it in 2008 to allow anyone to create PDF files and the tools necessary to do so.
These days there are too many PDF editors to choose from, and they all seem to do the same task. Most of them aren’t worth your time, but it’s also quite difficult to get much done for free.
So here are our top picks for editing and creating PDFs on your Mac.
How to Print to PDF in macOS
Your Mac can create PDFs natively, which means just about any desktop publishing app can become a PDF editor. You’ll miss out on features like interactive forms, but there’s no quicker way to share a document or web page as a PDF.
To export as a PDF in macOS:
- Click File > Print in your editor, browser, or other relevant application.
- Find the PDF drop-down at the bottom of the Print dialog. Click it and choose Save as PDF.
- Give your file a name, specify a password if required under Security Options, then click Save.
Editing PDFs With Preview
In short: Part of macOS. Fine for markup, signing documents, and simple PDF management; not a “true” PDF editor or creator.
Preview is an app that comes pre-installed as part of macOS. It’s a barebones document viewer, but it also includes a few handy PDF tools. Unfortunately, it’s not a PDF creator. You can’t design interactive documents or forms from scratch using Preview, but you can make rudimentary edits to existing ones.
Its best features are its markup and annotation tools. Preview also allows you to rearrange page order, delete pages, import new pages, and export individual pages as separate documents. You can’t edit existing PDF elements or create new ones, which means you can’t “edit” the PDF so much as annotate it.
Preview functions as a better PDF viewer than an editor. You can sign forms using its in-built signature feature, enter text into forms and save the input, and mark up a PDF with shapes, arrows, custom text, and your own scribble. These tools are easy to use and look great on the page, but it’s a far cry from a proper editor.
Some users report that Preview does not display its changes correctly in other editors, though I’ve had no problems arise from this when using the app to sign and return forms.
Editing PDFs With LibreOffice Draw
In short: Proper free PDF editing and creation with an open source look and feel, warts and all.
There’s a lot to love about the open-source office suite LibreOffice, not least the Draw app’s ability to edit PDF files. We’re not talking simple markup a la Preview, but full-blown PDF editing. To get started, launch Draw and point it at the PDF file you want to edit.
Once Draw opens your file, it converts shape elements into fixed images which you can resize and move. You can also move or fill text boxes, though any pre-filled data will be lost upon import. You can add your own shapes and boxes, form elements, charts, tables, and so on.
The biggest problem with LibreOffice Draw is its interpretation of certain PDF files. The formatting can appear slightly off, with weird text kerning and style interpretation. It’s also a fairly limited PDF creator. Form creation tools are hidden away under View > Toolbars > Form Controls. These can even create working interactive forms, but the tools are far from advanced.
Download: LibreOffice (Free)
Editing PDFs With Adobe Acrobat Pro DC
In short: Pricey but complete, perfect for editing and creating PDF files from scratch. It’s also the only app on this list to include optical character recognition (OCR).
Adobe created the PDF, and it’s still providing one of the best solutions for PDF editing, creation, and all the basic tasks in between. DC stands for “Document Cloud” which should give you an idea of what Adobe is going for: a cloud-reliant subscription-based all-in-one solution. At $15 per month, the biggest barrier to entry is the price, though you can try for free before you buy.
For your money, you get one of the best tools of its kind. Acrobat allows you to take the standard “desktop publishing” blank page route, but it’s also a master of conversion. This means you can design your document in Pages, Word, or even an app like Illustrator, then convert with Acrobat, add some PDF jazz, and keep it all handy in the cloud. You can even snap a picture with your camera, then turn it into an interactive document.
Every time you open a PDF, Acrobat will scan it and make text searchable using OCR. Editing tools are second to none, and you won’t have to worry about the weird formatting issues seen in free solutions like LibreOffice. A clear differentiation between edit and view mode means you won’t accidentally screw up formatting while trying to fill out a form. If you can afford it, you won’t be disappointed.
Download: Adobe Acrobat Pro DC (Free trial, subscription required)
Editing PDFs With PDF Expert
In short: An affordable single-license premium PDF editor that lacks some creative tools, but plays nicely with most PDF files.
Readdle’s PDF Expert is a premium tool, but it’s a one-off purchase. For $60 you’ll get a competent editor that allows for proper PDF document editing that’s a step above what Preview offers. Unfortunately PDF creation from scratch isn’t an option here, and a few of the editing tools leave something to be desired.
The app is a competent editor for basic text, markup, and image-related duties. You can fix typos, add a new photo to your resume, or add hyperlinks, but there are no tools for adding new shapes and form fields. However, it does include tools for merging, annotation, signing documents, and a fast search.
If you need a good editor and can’t commit to a Creative Cloud subscription, PDF Expert might just fit the bill. There’s a seven-day free trial upon downloading, so you can test out the features and decide if the app goes far enough with its limited tools. It’s worth noting that the app enjoys positive reviews and a 4.5/5 star rating on the Mac App Store.
Download: PDF Expert ($60)
Forget the Other PDF Editors
I tried a fair few PDF editors while coming up with this list, and Adobe Acrobat Pro DC was probably the best solution. Windows users can use apps like Nitro and Foxit for common PDF tasks, but the scene is a little more limited on a Mac. In particular, look out for fake landing pages masquerading as official websites, especially if they suggest using a third party “installer” app for downloads.